Trade for Development Centre is a programme of Enabel, the Belgian development agency.
apple orchard_Emily Jackson

Local fair trade in Belgium and Europe

Belgian and European fair trade in local products is on the up.

At least 52.4 million euros worth was sold in 2019.

In 2019 the milk crisis in Europe reached its peak: the prices that the farmers get for their milk are not even enough to cover their production costs. Since then, next to nothing has changed. Our region’s farmers are therefore also demanding a fair price and fair trade.

And Belgian consumers are completely on board: 73% of people in Belgium think that fair trade should also be applicable to Belgian or European farmers’ products, according to the 2020 barometer on fair trade published by the Trade for Development Centre (TDC).

Quite a high turnover already

The Trade for Development Centre added up the cost of local fair trade products sold in Belgium by companies that are members of the BFTF (Belgian Fair Trade Federation) or by companies with similar characteristics. For 2019, we arrive at a total of 52.5 million euros or approximately 4.56 euros per Belgian.

Research by the Trade for Development Centre

The Trade for Development Centre investigated this further: in their report ‘Local fair trade in Belgium and Europe’, TDC published a non-exhaustive list of Belgian and European initiatives that fall under the category of ‘local fair trade’. The document also gives a typology of the players, a cross-sectional analysis of the similarities and differences in production processes, pricing etc., and also provides a few points for consideration. Below you’ll find a few findings that are discussed in the study.

Newcomers, initiatives from ‘historic’ players and some new labels

We see 4 large shifts taking place: the emergence of specific local fair trade players, like Fairebel and the ‘Prix Juste Producteur’ label; local initiatives from the ‘historic’ fair trade organisations; the opening up of certain international labels to local fair trade; and finally the launch of the ‘Biogarantie Belgium’ label which comprises some criteria for fair trade.

Differing levels of requirements

The ‘classic’ North-South fair trade was already a catch-all term covering, for example, organisations that only work with marginalised producers organised in cooperatives and others who allow contract farming or certify large plantations.

The same goes for local Belgian and European fair trade. Even though all organisations are committed to the fair remuneration of producers, and although almost everyone works with organised producers, the differences lie in the agricultural model (agro-ecological or not), the emphasis put on the physical traceability of the products, the size of the farms etc.

More and more labels and an unclear perception

The emergence of local fair trade has led to new labels like ‘Prix Juste Producteur’ in Belgium, and ‘Bio Equitable En France’ and ‘Agri-Ethique’ from our southern neighbours. It has also led to certain labels like Biogarantie positioning themselves in this niche. This is on top of the fact that ‘classic’ North-South fair trade already has various different labels (Fairtrade, Fair for Life, Small Producers’ Symbol, WFTO etc.) and that consumers already say there are too many labels, that it is difficult to see the wood for the trees.

The consequence of this multitude of labels is that the criteria differ greatly. When fair trade becomes universal, the perception that the consumer has of it will also become more blurred.

Legislation needed?

France is the only European country that has passed legislation defining and recognising the term ‘fair trade’, and that in May 2014 expanded ‘fair trade’ to North-North relations. This kind of legislation within the European Union would make it possible to clarify things, to make it clearer ‘who is really doing fair trade, and who is not’ and to provide a clear framework to enable new players to get started with fair trade in a slightly safer, smoother way.

Furthermore, the consumer would be able to see at a glance which products are fair and which are not, and could serve as the reference for governments that want to promote fair trade products in their public procurement.

Animal welfare consideration?

With fair trade milk, a product of animal origin has entered the realm of fair trade. As a result, fair trade organisations will eventually be obliged to include criteria relating to animal welfare. What will the debate between the advocates of fair trade, vegetarianism or veganism look like when the first fair trade meat lands on a supermarket shelf?

Products from the ‘South’ and the ‘North’ on the market together?

Will local fair trade products soon start to compete with fair trade products that typically come from the South? That risk is the reason that – to date – networks of Fairtrade producers (producers that are Fairtrade certified, the most recognised label) have not opened up their certification to products from the North.

This is not an issue for products like coffee and cocoa because they can only be grown in tropical regions. But what about flowers, wine, honey or certain fruit juices? When it comes to honey, the European supply is smaller than the demand. So if we get honey from somewhere else, it might as well be fair trade. For wine and fruit juices – regional tastes aside – we need to take into account the carbon balance and the ecological footprint of products from different geographical regions.

Concretely, the ‘co-existence’ seems to be working quite well at the moment. Oxfam World Shops for example have swapped Chilean for Belgian apple juice and they also sell products from the North to supplement their original range. Who knows, perhaps the parallel development of local fair trade in the countries of the South will in the long run absorb some of the products that can no longer be exported on a large scale.

Since the start of fair trade more than seventy years ago, there has been a constant evolution and a search for added value. Today, fair trade has reached a universal dimension, with practices adapted to different local contexts. Hopefully the international movement or the legislator can ensure that a certain level of unity in approach is maintained.

Samuel Poos

Photo: Emily Jackson

Local fair trade in Belgium and Europe

A TDC study

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